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Retiree Moves

Florida Trend continues to track the arithmetic of in-migration to Florida ["Incoming", February 2007]. Dr. Charles Longino of Wake Forest University's Reynolda Gerontology Program studies retiree migration patterns. He is the author of "Retirement Migration in America" (Vacation Publications Inc., Houston).

He gave this response to Associate Editor Mike Vogel when asked about trends in retiree migration.

Vogel: A news report in June 2006 of an article by you published by the Gerontological Society of America said Florida in 2000 got less than a fifth of the people 60 and over moving across state lines - the first time that happened - and an increase in seniors moving out. But it concluded that there had been only a slight shift away from Florida among retirees in favor of other states. In the last week or two there was a story from United Van Lines, admittedly not scientific, of a net out-migration from Florida (though it wasn't confined to seniors). What's the bottom line on the current in- and out-migration of seniors to Florida? Is it shifting?

Longino: One of the defining characteristics of interstate retirement migration is that the migrants coming from many states are concentrated in only a few destinations, a result of highly focused flows into certain states. In 2000, over half of older migrants, 54% (compared to 56% in 1990) arrived in just ten states, having lived in other states five years before. Florida dominates the scene, having attracted from one-fifth to a quarter of all interstate migrants over 60 in all five census decades from 1960 to 2000.

A new phenomenon occurred in the 1985-1990 migration period. There was a small, gradual, decrease in the proportion of migrants received by the major destination states, with a gentle spreading out of the flows (as compared with earlier migration periods).

Table 1
10 States Receiving Most In-Migrants Age 60+ in Five-Year Periods Ending in 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990 and 2000
1960 1970 1980 1990 2000
State # % State # % State # % State # % State # %
FL 208,072 22.3 FL 263,200 24.4 FL 437,040 26.3 FL 451,709 23.8 FL 401,052 19.1
CA 126,883 13.6 CA 107,000 9.9 CA 144,880 8.7 CA 131,514 6.9 AZ 134,183 6.4
NJ 36,019 3.9 AZ 47,600 4.4 AZ 94,600 5.7 AZ 98,756 5.2 CA 127,693 6.1
NY 33,794 3.6 NJ 46,000 4.3 TX 78,480 4.7 TX 78,117 4.1 TX 101,446 4.8
IL 30,355 3.3 TX 39,800 3.7 NJ 49,400 3.0 NC 64,530 3.4 NC 77,720 3.7
AZ 29,571 3.2 NY 32,800 3.0 PA 39,520 2.4 PA 57,538 3.0 GA 63,120 3.0
OH 27,759 3.0 OH 32,300 3.0 NC 39,400 2.4 NJ 49,176 2.6 NV 62,155 3.0
TX 26,770 2.9 IL 28,800 2.7 WA 35,760 2.2 WA 47,484 2.5 PA 60,082 2.9
PA 25,738 2.8 PA 28,600 2.7 IL 35,720 2.1 VA 46,554 2.4 NJ 54,425 2.6
MI 20,308 2.2 MO 25,300 2.3 NY 34,920 2.1 GA 44,475 2.3 VA 53,776 2.6
Total Interstate Migrants 931,012 1,079,2001 1,622,1202 1,901,105 2,096,841
% of Total in Top 10 States 60.7 60.4 59.5 56.3 54.3
Source: U.S. Census

As Table 1 shows, the proportion of total migration going to the leading two destination states, Florida and California, has declined each decade since 1980, California losing its second place ranking in 2000 to a much less populous state, Arizona. Although the losses for Florida and California were relatively small, the trend is clear and persistent.

Underscoring the reality of this change, these declines are particularly noticeable because the numbers of interstate migrants leveled off between 1900 and 2000, causing the numbers, as well as the proportions, of migrants into Florida and California to drop between the past two censuses. It would be wrong, however, to predict the demise of Florida as the leading destination for retired migrants on the basis of these trends. It still attracts more later-life migrants than Arizona, California and Texas combined.

What can be made of these temporal patterns of state inflows of older migrants? First, it is difficult not to be impressed by the stability inherent in these patterns. The proportion of older persons who make long-distance moves, the proportion who move to Sunbelt states, and indeed the share received or sent by the leading destination and origin states are not volatile, raising and falling decade by decade. Minor changes occur within a framework of considerable stability, and this predictability provides the basis for strategic planning.

Using the 2000 census micro-data files, the top 100 counties or county groups have been ranked in terms of net interstate migration. In this ranking, Florida contains 31 of these destinations for interstate migrants, in keeping with its longstanding status as the leading migration destination for older migrants. Palm Beach County ranks second. Nationally, the leading sub-state destinations are located in coastal, mountain and desert counties across the United States, from seaside Maine and Cape Cod in Massachusetts to coastal Oregon and the Puget Sound in Washington. Maricopa County, Arizona (Phoenix), and Clark County, Nevada (Las Vegas), rank first and third nationally, respectively, and are the leading sub-state destinations in the West.

Riverside County, California (Palm Springs), ranks 28th and is California_s only entry on the list. Although the Sunbelt is generally the dominant regional destination, there is greater variety than is commonly assumed. Ocean County, New Jersey, for example, has consistently received enough retirees from New York and Pennsylvania to keep it among the top 100 interstate destinations for several decades.

Regional destinations attract migrants primarily from adjacent states. Examples are Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the New Jersey shore, the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania, all located outside the Sunbelt. Other locations in the Appalachian Mountains are the Ozark region of Missouri and Arkansas in the non-coastal Sunbelt. Southern and western Nevada and areas in the Pacific Northwest are all retirement areas of strong regional attraction and are frequently cited in retirement guides as good places to retire.
The 100 counties or county groups in 2000 sending the largest numbers of interstate migrants to other states were the comparatively populous metropolitan or suburban counties, led by Los Angeles County, California, and Cook County, Illinois. Not surprisingly the majority (58) of these counties or county groups were from outside the Sunbelt.

The surprise is that the remaining 42 are located in the states that attract the most interstate migrants. Thirteen are located in Florida. These Florida counties receive far more interstate migrants than leave them for counties outside of Florida. However, migrants of retirement age do leave Florida and other Sunbelt states, a point often missed by media accounts of retirement migration. Indeed, Florida ranks third, below only New York and California, on the list of major sending states.

Counterstream and return migration help to explain out-migration from the major receiving states. When the 100 leading origin counties (or county groups) are examined, they are nearly all metropolitan or suburban counties.

This fact may help to explain why interstate migrants like to move to counties that have a lower cost of living, are less congested, and are more scenic, but counties nonetheless that are either metropolitan counties themselves or are not far from metropolitan counties (e.g., Dade and Hillsborough counties in Florida and Maricopa County in Arizona) and can support important aspects of the migrants' former metropolitan lifestyles.